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The do-it-yourself day spa

Want beauty treatments and relaxation? Get them on a budget with these tips for frugal pampering.

By Donna_Freedman May 17, 2012 6:09PM

Image: Yoga (© DEX IMAGE/Getty Images/Getty Images)Discounted salon and spa treatments are common at social-buying and daily deal sites such as Groupon and Eversave. That's a frugal way to get haircuts, facials, therapeutic massages and the like.

Want to save even more? "Head to your kitchen," advises a blogger named Eva at the website $30 Thursdays.

Eva and other bloggers suggest that the way to relax is through items like olive oil, yogurt, honey, oatmeal and brown sugar. You don't eat them, though.

Such everyday ingredients can substitute for pricey conditioners, exfoliants and toners. For example, Eva says that brown sugar mixed with milk makes a good all-body exfoliant. Except for your mouth, that is; she suggests mixing petroleum jelly with raw sugar for a "lip scrub."

Spring and summer may call for a lot of exfoliating, because more of you is going to be showing. Before a scrub, soak in a warm bath with a handful of Epsom salts and, if you like, a tablespoon of oil. You can use mineral oil (baby oil) or canola, olive or even peanut oil.

Those last three might sound odd. But Cynthia Bailey, a dermatologist in Sebastopol, Calif., notes that the cooking oils show up in natural skin-care products.

Unwinding your nerves

Some people prefer salt scrubs to sugary ones. suggests mixing a cup of fine sea salt with half a cup of light oil and a few drops of essential oil added for aromatherapeutic value.

You could skip the scent if you don't have any on hand. Recently I noticed sea salt in the supermarket bulk-buy section for 59 cents a pound. Bonus: Salt scrubs are a great frugal holiday gift.

In the article "DIY spa skin treatments you can do at home," dermatologist Bailey recommends working the scrub into your skin with a loofah sponge or rough-textured bath mitt.

"Yes, it's nicer to have the spa technician do this for you," Bailey concedes, but a self-exfoliation is better than no exfoliation.

Watch your step getting out of that oil-slippery tub. Then use a little more oil -- olive, coconut, jojoba -- as a moisturizer. The soak and exfoliation will "unwind your nerves and leave your skin looking and feeling like you spent a small fortune at a spa," Bailey says.

From head to toe

An all-over scrub is invigorating, but a facial should be relaxing. It's hard to think of something more calming than oatmeal, an ingredient in commercial products for sensitive skin. But you can use regular breakfast cereal to make the "oatmeal facial mask" from the Spa50 website. The mix of honey, oatmeal and yogurt sounds easy. (Tasty, too.)

Keep the facial mask away from the eye area. But if your eyes are feeling puffy and irritated, try this chamomile tea remedy from Mary Ann Romans at It can be used as an anti-inflammatory compress for your eyes or your entire face. 

Romans has a frugal tip for softening hands: When cooking with olive oil, wipe out what's clinging to the sides of the measuring cup and rub it into your overworked paws. You can also comb light olive oil through your hair ("no need for the more expensive virgin oil"), cover it with a cap and take a hot shower. After five to seven minutes, take off the cap and shampoo as usual.

A few other easy spa tips:
  • Give your hands and feet a little attention with the mani-pedi tutorial tutorial at
  • Nothing beats a professional rubdown, but you can treat yourself to some simple self-massage techniques as explained by
  • No need to buy "massage" oil when you can make your own, according to Eco Thrifty Living. Even when using cold-pressed olive oil, as ETL prefers, the home-mixed emollient is "far cheaper than the oils sold specifically for massage purposes."
  • Treat dandruff with apple cider vinegar and herbs, suggests Laura Jensel at Interested in those pore-cleansing strips but unwilling to pay for them? A supersimple recipe for "DIY Biore strips" can be found at I Pick Up Pennies. "You'll be impressed (and slightly grossed out) by the results," promises blogger Abigail.

Note: Some of the items needed for these treatments -- vinegar, petroleum jelly, cotton balls, pedicure toe spacers, nail polish remover, Epsom salts -- can often be found at dollar stores.

More from MSN Money:

May 17, 2012 10:59PM
It's good to know the tips but I'll pass. I found some great local spas and enjoy the occasional pampering as a reward for pinching pennies so hard Mr. Lincoln appears to be cryin'.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.